Recent stories of powerful men sexually harassing and assaulting women have taken over the news in a flood of ever-more-shocking scenarios. From movie mogul Harvey Weinstein to actor Kevin Spacey and from comedian Louis C.K. to veteran NBC anchor Matt Lauer – many men who used their powerful positions to proposition and assault women are now seeing their careers (most likely) come to an end.
Millions of words in the last few months have been written by people struggling to understand the why. Why do men in these positions do what they do? Do they suffer from compulsions they are not able to control? Are they the products of a culture that creates abusive men? Or are they simply just bad people who take advantage of the power they’ve acquired?
These are interesting questions, but for me they are not the best question. What I continue to be amazed by is how the communities around these men – their movie studios, acting communities and, in the case of the many news figures, their employers – let this gross behavior slide for decades.
Just this morning, in an interview with “The Sunday Times,” the actor Gabriel Byrne said that production on the film “The Usual Suspects” – a film that pretty much launched the career of Kevin Spacey – was delayed at one point because of Spacey’s behavior on set.
“I did not know honestly then the extent of his violence,” Byrne said. “I mean, he was kind of a joke in that people would say, ‘That’s Kevin,’ but nobody really understood the depth of his predations.”
Similar comments were made about Weinstein by director Quentin Tarantino, who benefited a great deal from the Weinstein group’s production money to make films following his own peculiar artistic sensibilities
“I knew enough to do more than I did,” Tarantino told The New York Times in October. “There was more to it than just the normal rumors, the normal gossip. It wasn’t secondhand. I knew he did a couple of these things.”
Why did no one act? Even Tarantino can’t explain why he chose to do nothing. The same question is even harder to understand in the context of news figures like Lauer and senior TV journalist Mark Halperin. Both men were renowned for their predation that was reported constantly to superiors who did absolutely nothing. At one point last year, it was revealed that Fox News was practically governed from the top down by sexual harassers who spent millions settling with women who had credible accusations against former Fox host Bill O’ Reilly and boss Roger Ailes.
I can’t help but wonder what these workplaces might have been like if these men were dealt with after their first offense. Or even after their third. It’s clear that, for these men, their workplaces were nothing but great big enablers. No matter how terrible their acts, they were explained away by “boys will be boys” excuses with, no doubt, a healthy dose of “these guys make us money” rationalizations.
We will in coming months be forced to grapple with the sexual misbehavior of more well-known figures – in particular, politicians from Al Franken to Roy Moore to the President himself, who have yet to face consequences for their actions. As the employers of these men, it’s essential that we hold them accountable. As it stands now, we haven’t acted much better than NBC news. We all know enough to act. To do less is to enable a pervasive culture of sexual harassment.